Sustaining DH

"Sustaining DH" follows close upon the heels of "Sustaining MedArt," a project that investigated both the human-centered and technological ("socio-technical") factors that impact the long-term preservation of digital humanities projects. "Sustaining MedArt" culminated in the production of a website entitled The Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap (STSR) (www.sustainingdh.net), a resource that provides background information and a detailed scaffolding for exploring approaches to the long term sustainability of digital humanities projects. "Sustaining DH" supports the important work of taking the STSR "on the road," to institutions around the United States, for facilitated workshops. This project is generously funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities. 

Sustaining DH

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    Almost There with BitCurator

    For the last  couple of weeks on the Sustaining MedArt project I have focused on compiling what I have learned from comparing MedArt with MedArt-2014 in addition to continuing to work with BitCurator.

    In my last post I excitedly announced that I had conquered BitCurator perhaps a bit prematurely. I have found that creating a disk image of the hard drive holding MedArt and MedArt-2014 may not be possible. The 2 TB hard drive is too large to be successfully imaged on a computer with only 700 GB of storage left. To combat this problem I tried making a copy of MedArt (which is only 1.8 GB and much easier to work with than the 7.7 GB MedArt-2014), but I have not been able to get BitCurator to read any of the copies I made.

    However, I was able to simply copy and paste MedArt onto a small 16 GB flash drive and was able to use it to successfully experiment with some of the forensic tools on BitCurator. Using tools like Bulk Extractor to create reports I was able to see everything that had ever been on the flash drive I was using, even though everything on the flash drive was deleted before the copy of MedArt was added. I did find a few things that were interesting like email addresses attached to certain files that showed me when the files had been emailed and to whom. But the reports really seemed to focus on the actual flash drive more than on its present contents. So I think I will start moving away from BitCurator tools that require a disk image, granted there are not very many.

    The BitCurator tools that might provide more useful responses are FITS and sdhash, which I learned about by talking to Matt Burton in DSS. FITS can extract metadata from MedArt and MedArt-2014, and sdhash can compare data. I’m also going to look into Mac’s Filemerge utility which can compare folders. Hopefully using these tools I will be able to get results more relevant to the Sustaining MedArt project.   

     

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  • Vitruvian Man

    What does this mean?  Let's check the data on that.
     

     

    Sustaining MedArt and the Fear of Interdisciplinarity

    As a collaboration between Information Sciences and the History of Art and Architecture, “Sustaining MedArt” is a project conceived to be interdisciplinary—a term which many in my home department of English are happy to invoke when convenient, but one that few want to deal with practically when it means crossing venturing outside the humanities. This is, at least, how I feel as someone working on video games, a cultural artefact caught between quite a few disciplines at the moment, including sociology, computer science, literature, film studies, communication, media studies and so on. And, while I am happy to tout my own scholarship as interdisciplinary, it is perhaps more accurate to admit that it is mostly only my primary object of study that has a clear interdisciplinary appeal. Coming from humanities background, I largely treat video games as meaningful “texts,” reading them primarily from the inside out, following a hermeneutic tradition found in literary, art, and film scholarship. While I can appreciate and respect more scientifically oriented scholarly approaches—which I am also happy to incorporate anecdotally into my own work and pedagogy when applicable—I am also aware that, as a humanist, I conceive of scholarship’s purpose quite differently.

    I can imagine that my resistance appears narrow-minded to those conceiving of interdisciplinarity as a benevolent practice for opening lines of communication between scholarly discourses seemingly haphazardly sealed off from one another. (It is true that these disciplinary lines felt particularly inane on those occasions when I believe have stumbled onto some novel idea, only to discover that I have merely been rehearsing a tired conversation occurring in the department down the hall.) At the same time though, there are a number institutional and intellectual reasons for being suspicious of interdisciplinarity when it connotes crossing lines between the humanities and the sciences (social or hard). For starters, humanists are already on guard against what seems to be the increasing corporatization of the university—a system we fear is overly concerned with measurable “outcomes” and determines success through quantitative and data-based correlations. The humanist’s understanding is that much of what we provide students cannot and should not be calculated.  Merely consenting to these statistical schemas is often antithetical to our ideological skepticism of assessing value in terms of capital productivity.

    This belief is perhaps a function of a broader skepticism of applying scientific empiricism to the abstract categories of human culture, knowledge, and progress. Even as we humanists might maintain methodological rigor in our formal analyses, we do not present that methodology as “scientific.” We resolve to subsist in an era after post-structuralism, post-modernism and historiography (among other meta-critiques of critiques of critiques) have wreaked havoc on teleological searches for “the truth,” and so the conclusions we reach in our scholarship are self-consciously rhetorical and may even contain traces the creative abstraction of those primary sources we ostensibly interpret. As I see it, our general goal is to engender an unceasing conversation about what it means to be human by continuously revealing new ways of seeing things.  We question any ideological structure that allows us to take any part of our experience for granted as a given. (The central paradox at the heart of this humanist scholarship may be in the essential creed that all truth claims can be undermined.)

    So what happens, when avowed humanist like me joins an interdisciplinary project faced with the very practical responsibility of determining a “Socio-Technical Digital Preservation Roadmap” for actual cultural artefacts? Can I allow my research and analysis to actually suggest an entirely practical solution to a very concrete set of concerns about archiving material in the digital age? To be perfectly honest, I don’t know yet, but I am eager to find out. To be fair, maybe this isn’t as big deal as I seem to be making it—it might merely be another instance of the tension between theory and practice that a humanist faces every day when we have to do things like teach, write, and administrate.  However lofty our scholarship may be, our very participation in a functioning world is premised on the fact that we can act as if we are oriented towards something aligned with a notion of progress.

    Anyway, as an opening post, I hope I expressed some of my initial thoughts about my participation in this project.  In my next post, I’ll provide more of a specific look into the various ways we can define the MedArt website as the central object of our concern, and the ramifications stemming from those respective definitions.

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
  • Coggle Mind-Map of Sustaining MedArt Bibliography

    Mind-Map of Sustaining MedArt Bibliography

     

    Creating a Bibliography for Sustaining MedArt

    The process for creating a bibliography for the Sustaining Medart project began with looking at a mashup of keywords and themes from the grant application of the project, and of course discussions in the Visual Media Workshop with Aisling Quigley, and having been involved in the interviews that we carried out for the project at the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI.  Websites, PDFs, and journal articles worked themselves out of the woodwork as I searched for terms such as “preserving websites”, “digital preservation policy”, “website usability”, “digital collections”, “digital galleries”, “online museums”, “digital image collection users”, “grounded theory”, “qualitative coding”, “coding interviews”, “analyzing interviews”, “1990s websites”, and more. Eventually I had to figure out how to make sense of it all; how to put all of these resources in a logical order.  

    The major themes that I found throughout the articles, which turned into categories and sub-categories within the bibliography, include the following: Usability, with the sub-categories Aesthetics and another for Metadata, User Perspective; Image Databases and Collections, with the sub-category of Issues in the 1990s; Preservation and Access, with the sub-categories of Images, Websites, Policy/Policy Development, and Project Management; and Grounded Theory, with the sub-category of Coding and Analyzing Interviews. 

    Usability was an obvious one. While carrying out the interviews, the biggest aspect we focused on was testing how usable people found the website; whether they could intuitively find what was asked of them to find. Regardless of opinion, the task that they had to complete was more about the logical navigation of the website. The resources that I gathered for this section and its subsections include articles and books on the functionality of digital materials for research in the humanities, how individuals experience and react to digital archives and museums, how viewers react to the quality of images, and the user perspective, interaction, and understanding of metadata found in digital image collections. I’ve invested a lot of time in the Usability section due to its prominence within the interview process. 

    The second section that I’ve spent the most time on thus far is Preservation and Access. When searching for articles and trying to find relevant sources for Sustaining MedArt, the majority fell into the category of preservation policy and scholarly advice on how to develop that policy. With any digital preservation project, developing a preservation policy is very important, especially if new individuals become involved later down the road. The sub-category for Websites contains some important case studies for website preservation, including a case study on preserving the Lighthouses of Australia website, and a reference to preserving two HTML exhibition websites created by the MoMA.

    My thinking behind placing Coding and Analyzing Interviews as a sub-category of Grounded Theory is that coding and analyzing interviews, which are qualitative and opinion-based in nature, fall under Grounded Theory as a research model. Grounded Theory as a larger category is one that I still have to do some further reading on in order to add to the category within the bibliography. 

    *Mind-map made using Coggle

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
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    MedArt at Kalamazoo: Reflections on Technology

    When tasked, along with others, to survey attendees of the International Congress on Medieval Studies (2016) in Kalamazoo, Michigan for the Sustaining MedArt project, I nervously realized that my perspective on people and their relationship with technology in the context of academia over time was drastically changing, and fast.

    It was only in the past year that I was introduced to the concept and field of Digital Humanities, as well as to concepts surrounding sustainability and innovation within the realm of digital preservation. Trained in art history as an undergrad, by older professors who at most knew how to create Word documents, create Power Point presentations, and send emails, the scope of what could be done in the digital world with the humanities and art history in particular was never known or presented to me. Many of these individuals still exist; they pass on their knowledge the same way they always have, their TA’s often only echo their commands, and their students often create or produce knowledge in a similar way to how they were taught to do so.

    While carrying out surveys at the conference this year, it was easy to see the gap between the older and younger academics. Before starting my second survey, I helped an older professor connect to the internet on his device, a device that he couldn’t even recall the name of (it was an Apple iPad). Forget it when he was asked to state the name of the operating system. As he complained, among other things, that technology was so annoying and why was the conference not in Vegas this year, I laughed but was thinking to myself, “Whether in Vegas or Kalamazoo, you’d still need someone to help you get online, which means you’d still be complaining about something.” He took the survey. Unsurprisingly he stated that he was not very comfortable with web technologies. The task was medium difficulty for him—“Find Canterbury Cathedral on MedArt.” When I reached the end of the survey with him, he gave his opinion on MedArt: that it should be preserved because it’s probably “cheap” to preserve. In his head, sustaining it was really about the economics of the thing, not whether the content—the meat of the site—was important in any way.

    Many of the younger individuals that I surveyed were more comfortable with web technologies, as well as what they wanted out of these technologies. They were often of the opinion that the site should be preserved and sustained if what it offered was worthy of preservation. They often wanted to have the ability to search the site to find something specific, or they wondered why the site never showed up in their Google or Google Image searches. If the site did not show up in search, why?  Perhaps the site is not as worthy of being sustained unless it was tagged properly and able to show up in large search engine searches. What is the use of the site if they can’t even find it? Many of the younger individuals were also bothered by how the site appeared aesthetically. Looks are important in this day and age!   

    Aside from the surveys, I attended a session put together by the HMML and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Their digitization efforts and use of digital tools to link data, and search manuscripts and link fragments—as well as evidence provided of the detective work done before technology and DH came along to piece things together—was very eye-opening.

    As time goes on, new technologies are developed and the possibilities for preserving and piecing things together faster and in new ways become endless. New questions and new answers emerge, and what we want and expect from our technology changes. What I learned from these surveys and talks was that this is apparent if we examine generations far apart from one another. As for academia, what does this say about it if every individual from each generation within that world and entering that world expects something different from their technology? And on a smaller scale, but more important and immediate to us, what does it mean for MedArt?

     

    *Main image in the Public Domain.

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
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    Usability Research Commences!

    This week, my advisor, three courageous graduate students, and I will be attending the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There, we will be conducting interviews as part of our ongoing research on the NEH-funded Sustaining MedArt project. We are primarily interested in how users currently engage with the site (created ca. 1995), and how their interactions with the site might inform the task of creating a sustainability roadmap applicable to this project and beyond…I created this little poster to advertise the work we’ll be doing next week!

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work

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